She was wrong. They were all wrong. The administration hadn’t said that. And now the GOP’s theory, like the CIA’s initial theory, is falling apart. On Oct. 16, David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times reported from Cairo:
To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck the United States Mission without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as members of a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence. … The assailants approvingly recalled a 2006 assault by local Islamists that had destroyed an Italian diplomatic mission in Benghazi over a perceived insult to the prophet. In June the group staged a similar attack against the Tunisian Consulate over a different film. … Other Benghazi militia leaders who know the group say its leaders and ideology are all homegrown. … [T]hey openly proselytize for their brand of puritanical Islam and political vision. They profess no interest in global fights against the West or distant battles aimed at removing American troops from the Arabian Peninsula.
On Friday, the Los Angeles Times confirmed that account. Citing “U.S. officials and witnesses interviewed in Libya,” the Times said the assault “appears to have been an opportunistic attack rather than a long-planned operation. … [A]fter five weeks of investigation, U.S. intelligence agencies say they have found no evidence of Al Qaeda participation.” Last night, the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA’s "current intelligence assessment still notes there is conflicting evidence about whether there was a protest earlier on the day of the attack.” A U.S. intelligence official adds:
"There isn’t any intelligence that the attackers pre-planned their assault days or weeks in advance. … The bulk of available information supports the early assessment that the attackers launched their assault opportunistically after they learned about the violence at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”
What really happened in Benghazi? I don’t know yet. Neither do you. Neither does Romney, Obama, or the CIA. We’re still trying to figure it out. All we know for sure is that the media and officials on both sides drew unwarranted conclusions. As Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., put it yesterday:
One of the narratives that the Obama campaign has laid out is that Bin Laden is dead—they've bragged about that forever—and that Al Qaida is in retreat. And you start to wonder: Did they basically say, “Do not allow any story to emerge that counters that narrative”? Is that why, for two weeks, they told us that the Libyan incident in Benghazi was a popular uprising and not a terrorist attack? Because it ran counter to their campaign narrative?
Shouldn’t Republicans ask themselves the same question? Haven’t they argued all along that the key to security is to be feared, not loved? Is that why, for weeks, they told us the Benghazi incident was an al-Qaida attack plotted for the anniversary of 9/11, unrelated to the video-inspired riots across the Muslim world? Because it runs counter to their campaign narrative?
The lesson of Benghazi isn’t that your political enemies got it wrong. The lesson is to worry less about their bias and more about yours.
William Saletan's latest short takes on the news, via Twitter: